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Sunday, January 01, 2017

ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
December 31, 2016
Scott Foley, purveyor o' dust

Towards the finish of every recent year, I have assembled a mighty and humbling list of "stuff that Scott whiffed on" over the past 12 months.  This is a handful of releases that I should have represented on my blog and my playlists, but which for whatever reason I either shared too sparingly or simply never got around to.  Consider this a formal mea culpa to the artists, as well as a heads-up to readers to check this stuff out.

~ Darrin Bradbury, Elmwood Park: A Slightly Melodic Audiobook  (Bradbury, Sept)  This East Nashville songwriter actually earned some good words on Rolling Stone's own site, though I apparently never got around to doing so myself.  Bradbury can be a brilliant writer, though he tends to masquerade that gift behind irreverent humor a'la Todd Snider or Bobby Bare Jr or John Prine.   Check out the brilliant "Life Is Hard" below,or the sweet sweet "True Love" on bandcampHow I wish I could get back to when love was just a toke of something green like your eyes / Honey gold like your hair / And we could always laugh, even when there was no joke / We'd lie lazy 'round like cats / We're not going anywhere ... 



~ Chris Stalcup & the Grange, Downhearted Fools (Stalcup, Sept)  Stalcup even quotes me on his website, in praise of his previous band Chase Fifty Six's work.  Apparently, that's not enough for R&B to play his new act's excellent 2016 release.  What sucks is that the more I listen to "Ogeechee River"  or the chunky style guitar of the title track, the more I realize that Downhearted Fools probably belongs somewhere on last week's list of my favorites for 2016.  And if you're looking for a 7 minute alt.country slide guitar opus to complete your year, look no further than "However You Want Me".  For more fun, I've included Stalcup's seasonal single, "I Hate Christmas" on the playlist below.


~ Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Commandments According To SCAC  (SCAC, Sept)  Arliss Nancy aside, the Square State music scene was a virtual wasteland in 2016.  Or maybe I just wasn't paying attention.  One thing we can all agree upon is that I should've shared more from this genuinely unique band's new collection.  SCAC have long abandoned "normal", and with impatiently evolving time signatures and enigmatic lyrical content (I think there's a lot about moths here), you won't be singing along with "Commandment 1", "Commandment 8" or even "Commandment 4" anytime soon.  Nor will they be on your wedding mixtape.  Its electric guitars, graveyard percussion and anti-chorus backing vox can be dark dark dark.  Like the devil's interpretation of B52s ... But consider this an antidote to ... say, Jim Lauderdale or some other artist who is so deep in their pocket as to be in a musical rut.  Which is precisely why we're grateful for a record like Commandments, providing the turbulence to shake up our kind of music just enough to keep it alive.

~ Itasca, Open to Chance  (Paradise of Bachelors, Sept)  Those who prefer their alt. a bit more melodic might want to lend an ear to Kayla Cohen and friends.  Her third release as Itasca might recall one of those long lost 60s or 70s folk recordings like Vashti Bunyan or Judee Sill, a lovely and husky delivery at its best on lazy midtempo songs like "Buddy" or "No Consequence".  "GB" lopes along on shuffling drums and languid slide, Cohen's spectral voice beyond it all.  Plus, there's the occasional appearance of The Official Instrument of 70s Folk: the Flute (a worthy tool so conspicuously absent in today's roots fare).  I find most of what passes for folk music limp and edge-free, which is why I'm so eager to discover stuff not embraced by the contemporary folk community like Itasca or Courtney Marie Andrews.

~ Karl Blau, Introducing Karl Blau  (Raven Marching Band, May)  Browsing forthcoming releases early in the year, the cover caught my eye.  A husky bearded gent, nicely attired, bedecked with lights and photographed against a cornflower blue sky.  Surely something good had to be happening there?!  Mr Blau has apparently been dodging my radar for 20 years, releasing gobs of eclectic projects to local notoriety (Seattle), but with little recognition elsewhere.  Apparently, all it took was this handsome record jacket and this atypical collection of country-soul and country-politan covers.  Blau plays it relatively straight here, applying his smooth baritone croon and very tasteful arrangements (thanx, Tucker Martine) to pieces originally done by Tom T Hall, Townes Van Zandt, Link Wray and others.  One review called him a "plastic cowboy", wondering if Blau is really playing it straight here.  Yep or nope, it's certainly good good stuff, surely worthy of a handful of spins on R&B.

In all honesty, every year there are many more than the 5 whiffs on which I focus here.  Many more.  But it's always the case that in choosing to shine a light fairly on one release we risk neglecting a dozen other worthy projects.  Next week, be ready for new stuff from Scott H Biram, the Sadies (w/Kurt Vile), Old 97s and mucho mas.   Here's hoping you a meaningful and rewarding New Year, one that's rich with musical discovery.  For my part, I resolve to continue chasing the muse into the bramble and tangle of the music industry hinterlands.  That, and to grow out my bangs ...

Here's one of these festive poppers:

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